Tape Hardware recommendations

Posted on 2006-04-26
Last Modified: 2010-04-03
I am looking to include tape into my backup solution. I currently have 5 machines:

Windows 2003 SBS (Primary Server)
Windows 2000 Server (kept around for a backup domain controller)
3 XP/Pro clients

All 5 machines have 2 disks: A C drive and a D drive for backups. The 2000 svr has a 250GB drive to backup the backups.

Full ASR backupsfor the machines, done monthly take up the following: 11GB, 11GB, 27GB, 2GB, 17GB

Daily User Data backups that include the system state take up the following: 1GB, 0.5GB, 4GB, 0.5GB, 3GB

I've set up bat files containing ntbackup and copy cmds that execute at night via the Scheduled Tasks function. I dont have any real complaints with ntbackup and wouldnt mind staying with it. I plan to use the tape to transfer the disk backup files out to tape, so it can be done during the day with the GUI interface without much problem. Backing up via ntbackup to disk has worked great over the years, but I want to get many more objects (tapes) containing data into rotations. I recently had 2 untimely failures of backup drives that almost made me loose everything.

My first question is: Which causes less headaches, SCSI or USB. I would like the flexability of USB but do not know it and do not want to sacrifice reliability.

My second question is: What tape drives in the (lets say approx) $1000 range would you recommend? I'm guessing somewhere around a 36/72 GB drive.

My third question is: Is tape really that bad? Doing the research and looking through the EE discussions, I dont have a real good feeling about tapes in the Windows environment. It seems like they give people nothing but fits. Is that the way you in your experience see tapes? I have used tapes on other (IBM mini) platforms where tapes were rock solid, (almost) never a problem.

I am open to other sugguestions (DVD, USB attached portable disks, etc) but would like to implement tape (the devil you know...).

Thanks in advance

Question by:MikeBroderick
    LVL 4

    Accepted Solution

    1. We have utilized both USB and SCSI in our firm and for our customers, and can't say either is strikingly more or less reliable. SCSI's performance cannot be matched and I feel that SCSI products are typically higher quality, (by default, nothing costing that much should be low quality)
    2. & 3.-
    Tape is 'old reliable' in the backup world, but its tenure may be fading fast. Note Iomega's latest answer to tape: The "REV" drive which are sealed, self contained 35GB (90GB compressed) removable hard drive containing cartridges (about the same size as ZIP disks and 2x the thickness).

    HDD based so you have random access to your data, unlike a tape...much faster.
    Available in the following interfaces
    FireWire External  
    SATA Internal  
    SCSI Internal  
    SCSI External  
    Relative low cost-- For example: USB drive and 6-35GB disks are under $600.

    relative newcomer...not time-tested.
    It comes with Yosemite Tapeware or a proprietary Iomega BU software, neither of which dazzle me. I am a DANTZ Retrospect believer.

    All in all pretty darn smooth. The disks are only like $60 a piece and can be formatted by windows as standard 'removeable media' so you can copy and paste within Windows Explorer making archiving a snap. (with this method you lose out on most of your compression capabilities). These feel like tapes, act like tapes, for all intents are tapes, except for what is inside!! I look forward to when Iomega is able to fit larger volumes per disk (keep in mind, the ZIP went from 100 to 750MB over its course!!). I have even read about setting up the REV to be bootable, making a 0 downtime back up of your OS a reality.

    Find more at
    LVL 87

    Assisted Solution

    Not all USB tape drives are supported properly by server OS's, SCSI on the other hand I have never heard of any drives that wouldn't have been supported. USB on the other hand is less expensive and there is no need to open up the box to add new hardware.

    If possible, I'd get a SCSI tape device, either a DLT, SDLT or ULTRIUM, but DON'T get DAT (DDS), as that is rather unreliable.
    LVL 22

    Assisted Solution

    Without a doubt SCSI and tape are still king. USB is fine for home/home business but I can not recommend it for commercial use.

    Along the same lines Travan or DDS are fine for home/home business. SDLT or LTO is the way to go. There are lower priced DLT drives DLT1, VS80, or VS160, but along with the lower prices comes reduced reliability.

    Tape has been proved to have a storage life of 30 years and has shown itself to be rock solid. I think you would be hard pressed to find a major company or government installation that does not use tape. Even the ones that backup to disk move the data to tape. As for reported problems, from what I have seen in most cases they were problems that could have been avoided if proper procedures had been followed.

    If WORM is going to be used then my choice goes only to SDLT because it uses standard tapes, instead of special high priced tapes just for WORM.

    Assisted Solution

    TAKE THE PLUNGE: Go with external hard drives!!!
    After years of SCSI tape drives (DDS2, DDS3, DDS4, LTO, LTO2) we've ditched tape & SCSI completey....    USB2 or Firewire external hard drives are the way to go in my opinion.

    Why?  You've got to assume you will have a backup DRIVE failure at some point (the tape drive or external hard drive will fail)...

    What do you do when a tape drive fails?
    1) panic;-)
    2)rush out & buy a new one or have one shipped in (a day or two of no backup) - another $1000
    3)send the broken tape drive in for repairs (at least a week with no backups) - price of a repair? who knows, but I cant imagine it's cost effective vs replacing it with a new one -- we sent a few in for repair & didn't like the results -- they soon failed again

    What do you do when an external hard drive used for backups fails?
    1) grab another blank external drive (you'll always have at least a few extra on hand), format it, put it into the backup rotation...  cost to get another extra drive: about $100   (though fyi, I haven't had a hard drive fail yet)

    Tape drives: $1000 for the drive (plus a future $1000 when it fails) plus a bunch of tapes (40$ each for DLT for example) -- then another $1000 sometime down the road to replace the drive.
    External harddrives: Under $100 each for 100Gig drives, about $150 for 250 Gig drives, etc...  you'll probably get 5 or 6 depending on how you'll do your rotation so anywhere from 500-1000

    I'd recommend a 4 or 5 week rotation -- each week you'll keep the same drive in place & swap it with the next drive in series each week.    You'll want incremental backups (so you don't copy the entire block of data every night -- just what changes) -- this means you'll be able to recover not only last night's data but the day before, and the day before that etc.......   I can reliably recover any single day of data for the past month (actually, in my case quite a bit farther back since I "retire" one drive for archive purposes every month)

    SCSI vs USB: not worth the cost (& hassle of getting scsi cards, etc...)  for your needs.  USB2 is very reliable & plenty fast for what you're doing (I'm backing up 100s of gigs & use USB2 without any issues)
    LVL 22

    Expert Comment

    Disk is nice, it is very fast for a restore but not a complete solution. It is fast for backup but the new generation of DLT (SDLT & DLT-S4) and LTO drives are just as fast so there is no advantage there.

    Eric you left a couple of things out. When the tape drive fails you either get it replaced under warrenty or buy a new one and in either case all the data is still safe on tape. What happens when the harddrive fails. If it is under warranty it can be sent back for replacement, and they will send you a new one and your data is gone. Well not really gone because now it is in the hands of the guys who rebuild that harddrive. Of course if you really need that data a data recovery house can always get it back.

    Also data on tape can be encripted as part of the normal backup, and sessions can be password protected. Also the backup application will provide detailed logs, and a database to record everything backed up.

    Cost per mb is still the cheapest with tape because five day rotation is just a start. Beyond that there should be a weekly which is kept for a month and a monthly kept for a year ending up with a stack of media. The historical data is usually needed for example due to legal reasons (in more and more cases companies are required to keep records), in case of an audit, or when you find out that a system was comprimised two weeks ago. Now what if you have specific needs beyond that. For example I have worked with clients that have needed to keep a copy of each document change, so they maintain a rather large historical backup library.

    Author Comment

    Thank you guys for your comments on hard drive backup, but I am not planning on doing that.

    Expert Comment

    Good points, yet I still vote hard drive (for a small office):

    >data still safe on tape
    --generally, I agree, however, (and I'll admit I'm prejudiced by DDS experiences from years ago) we've had issues with tape drives slowly becoming unreliable over time -- and when we repaired or replaced the tape drive, we found that older tapes were not easy to read.  
    I'm not an expert on the mechanics of tapedrives, but I'm sure it's similar to experiences we've all had with plain old VCRs -- where you record on an old VCR & then try to play it on a different VCR & it's unwatchable and yet if you go back to the original VCR you can still watch it...    I assume something just isn't lining up quite right.

    >dead hard drive
    --I could lose the data on that drive - of course I could lose data on a tape if the tape itself fails...
    --also, if a hard drive fails, I'm the one doing the reformatting -- and you're right, if it was a complete failure & wouldn't reformat, I'd avoid returning it for data security reasons...   However, $100 loss isn't a big issue.

    >data on tape can be encrypted & pw protected
    --hard drive backups can do this as well -- in my case, I'm using Retrospect (backup to file) -- it creates an enourmous single encrypted file on the drive...

    Which reminds me of another benifit -- with hard drives, I can put multiple backup jobs on a single drive -- for example, if I backup desktop users every evening, that goes into one backup file on the drive, but then a proactive backup server (for laptops that are there only occasionally) goes onto another backup file on the same hard drive.

    >Cost per mb (or GB now days;-)
    The tone of Mike's initial request didn't strike me as somethign that needed massive archived backups stretching out over years...  I agree, if you really go "the high end professional" route, tape is still cheaper, but for a small office that needs basic disaster protection & a few months of back data, disk wins out...    again, with a 5 disk rotation using incremental backups, I not only get 5 weeks of daily data, I get 4 or 5 months of daily data -- because the incremental backups just pick up again when a month goes by and the drive gets back in the rotation...   I hope this last bit makes sense -- if not, I can explain further...

    Expert Comment

    (I just saw your post about not going with a hard drive solution - I understand your decision but I'd still recommend you think about external drives -- your backups software will deal with them pretty well -- at least all the software I've looked at will)...  

    Regarding Tape:  one other thing -- always get a significantly bigger tape drive than you currently need -- that's another issue with tapes that I've been caught with in the past --  The rate of data growth is ridiculous for most offices -- my 200 Gig LTO drive seemed dreamy & impossible to fill just a few years ago...   Also, look into how well the compression works -- some drives have better compression in my experience than others...  (ie DDS sucked, LTO was close to perfect)

    which reminds me of yet another benifit of hard drives -- I can keep buying bigger drives for just the cost of the drive  -- a 250 Gig drive is now $150, but they've just announced 750Gig drives so you can be sure the 350Gig drives will be quickly dropping to the $150 price range ...and so on and so on...   This more than keeps up with our data growth.


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